What can you accomplish with a virtual assistant? There’s no reason you have to discover it on your own. You can look to the lessons of established entrepreneurs who have already explored this avenue for their own business and incorporate those strategies into your own company.
Established entrepreneurs are like you. They know what it’s like to grow a company. They also know what it’s like to grow a company and hit a ceiling when you’re about as productive as you can be without bringing on additional help.
But entrepreneurs don’t always go straight for a full-time hire. They can add help with a low-risk, low-commitment virtual assistant.
True: not every entrepreneur’s experience is the same. Some find the process highly rewarding. Others find it vexing. To determine the difference between the two, we looked at examples from real entrepreneurs to determine how they best used their virtual assistants—and see if we could glean some lessons of our own. Here’s what we found.
Identify the Redundant Tasks You Can Outsource
What’s the first sign that an entrepreneur needs a virtual assistant? When you spend so much time with redundant tasks that it feels like your business can no longer grow as a result of it. Given that entrepreneurs only have 24 hours in a day, you can’t scale your business until you identify those redundant tasks from which you need to separate.
“I originally sought out a VA when I found 35% of my time was being spent on redundant administration tasks that could easily be handed off to a capable professional virtual assistant,” - Kevin Gray, CEO & Founder of ApproveMe.com
According to Gray, those tasks included payroll processing, employee/contractor onboarding, generic email replies, research, and more.
The question isn’t whether you can use a VA to take on these redundant tasks. The question is how to find them. Here are some ways you can find your most time-consuming tasks and identify those that can most easily be outsourced:
- Look at Inc.com’s recommendations. Inc.com includes six sample tasks that may be eating up most of your time, including tasks like editing, proofreading, and sorting through email. The larger your company gets, the more these “good” problems turn bad. And if you notice that most of your day is spent on administrative activities like scheduling times to follow up with clients, it’s a sure sign that a VA can take these tasks on themselves.
- Use a time monitor. Install a program like RescueTime or Timing to visualize where you spend most of your time on the computer. Let these programs run for two weeks and evaluate the results. You don’t necessarily want to pay attention to your distracted time, but actually evaluate the reports of where you’re spending your productive time. For example, using Excel to organize spreadsheets and input data may be productive time—but it’s time that you need someone else to do if you’re going to free up your own hours.
- Give your time an hourly price. Time is money, after all. Calculate how much income you generate through the year and divide that by the number of hours you’d ideally spend at your business. For instance, if you earn $100,000 per year on your business and you want to work 2,000 hours per year, you know that your productive hourly rate is $50 per hour. If you can outsource your work at a lower price (as most virtual assistants and virtual assistant services charge), then outsourcing just about any of your work helps your business grow by giving you more time to focus on essential tasks.
Use Your First Virtual Assistant Experience to Create an Onboarding Document
“Document, document, document. Take the time to create thorough documentation with screenshots, and explanations for any repetitive task.” - Kevin Gray of ApproveMe.com.
Why is documenting this work so important? Because it will help you discover and report the exact steps you use to create some of your most essential tasks.
If your current VA doesn’t work out, you’ll still be left with an onboarding document that you can send to your next hire. This information can also be used to help bring on board full-time hires if your business grows to that stage.
It also helps you to identify any steps that might be out of place along the way. If there are unnecessary steps—or suggestions your VA can make for improvement—this is the process that will help you identify those. It’s not necessarily documenting for the sake of documenting. It’s also a way to actively evaluate your core processes.
Build a Trusting Relationship with Your VA
Too many entrepreneurs hold back with their VA. While this makes sense in some situations—such as hiring a VA that you don’t know a lot about or hiring an independent VA for the first time—it’s not always a good idea when you’re working with a trusted employer of virtual assistants.
Having a trusting relationship with your VA is essential. A VA is someone with whom you may share passwords, personal details, and other information pertinent to getting your daily work done.
Without that trust in place, you may never fully onboard the VA in the essential processes that make your daily life possible. How can they follow up on emails within your inbox if they never have access to your inbox? How can they make arrangements if they don’t have the necessary information to work on your behalf?
Think of your VA not as a stranger, but as a representative. Yes, when you first work with your VA, they will be a stranger. But entrepreneurs who are able to grow with their team are the types of leaders who allow their teams to grow within their roles. Your business can’t grow without the cooperation of people who need to buy into your success. Use your onboarding process to fully initiate your VA into your way of doing things, and try not to hold back.
“Get to know your assistant,” said Gray. “They are a real person. Genuinely take an interest in their lives and their personal successes. Obsess over documentation, take the time to do it and do it right. Use helpful screenshot tools that let you annotate notes. Build a relationship and treat your assistant with dignity and respect. Even if a mistake is made, we are all humans in the end and each of us makes mistakes, use each mistake as a learning opportunity and see them as ‘mistake investments.’
Lesson #1: Be Open to Your Virtual Assistant’s Capabilities
Entrepreneurs consistently find that their VAs are more than capable of changing the way their business works. As Kevin Gray of ApproveMe.com found, “Initially I was under the impression that I could only outsource admin heavy projects related to ApproveMe.com however, I quickly found (after building rapport and trust with my assistant) that she was more than capable (and willing) to help with personal administrative tasks that eat up 5-10 hours of my time each week.”
That means that your initial experience with virtual assistants might not totally jive with what you expected. But this can be a good thing. Give your virtual assistant the power and independence to take on more than you might have hired them for. You may just find that they pleasantly surprise you.
Lesson #2: Let Go of What You Love Doing
Pat Flynn of Smart Passive Income had this to say:
“Learn to let go of some things that you just love to do. Concentrate on those that give you the most return and hand over the lower-earning tasks to your VA.”
We know what you’re thinking. How can you let go of what you love doing and expect your business to take off? After all, isn’t it your passion that helped fuel its initial success?
Sure. But that doesn’t mean you can’t share what you love doing. If your business is going to grow, it needs to move beyond the 24 hours you have in a day. It needs to involve others.
This doesn’t mean that entrepreneurs should feel that they no longer have any role in what they love about their business. You’re still free to take on whatever actions you want to take on. If that involves checking your own email, great. If it means setting your own calendar, you can do that too. But you should work hard to identify those tasks that matter less to you—the tasks that a virtual assistant can gladly take off your plate.
Lesson #3: Use a Virtual Assistant to Create More Productive Time For Yourself
Once you have a virtual assistant take on something like your email follow-ups, you’ll free your own time. The question then becomes: what next? You should have a plan for what you do after the plane takes off from the proverbial runway.
In your case, that may be devoting more time and attention to those business activities that generate the most results for you. It may also mean that you spend time doing what you love, enhancing the quality of what you’ve already done.
But you won’t begin to leverage your newfound time if you don’t have a plan for how to spend that time. Once you uncouple yourself from the day’s most mundane tasks, employ a habit called “chunking”—that is, taking on specific sections of work in distraction-free chunks—to improve your own productivity.
Lesson #4: Leave Room for Feedback
You might encounter the odd entrepreneur who reveals that they once “tried virtual assistants” and find that nothing worked out. But if you probe deeper, you might find some interesting things about these scenarios. Did the entrepreneur ever really invite the VA into their business? Did they empower them to make decisions and truly delegate many of their most burdensome tasks?
And, most importantly, did they leave room for feedback?
Virtual assistants are like any of us. They may have skills and experience to help along the way, but they won’t truly know what you need unless you inform them. If they do something in a new way that throws someone else off, it’s important that you let them know that fact. If they don’t know it, they won’t have the room to fix it. They may not even realize they’re doing it!
That’s where the advice to document your entire journey comes in. It’s vital that you use every opportunity with a VA as a learning opportunity. Document the steps they have to take. Create an onboarding document that will incorporate their feedback and make future processes smoother. Be willing to grow with your VA just as you might expect them to grow with you.
Think about it: many entrepreneurs are happy to provide yearly reviews for employees. But how few reach out to virtual assistants to correct their errors? Consider this an investment of time that pays dividends in the skills and experience of your VA.
The more you incorporate feedback into how you approach your VA experience, the better a chance you’ll have of a successful onboarding process. That’s how established entrepreneurs do it. Why can’t you?
If you're getting up and running with a virtual assistant, or just considering it - here's our helpful guide to getting started with your VA.